The fifth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs opened their 2021 season with a 10-3 victory over the third-ranked Clemson Tigers.
With the victory, Georgia improved to 98-27-3 in season openers, including 6-0 under head coach Kirby Smart. The Bulldogs increased their series advantage over the Tigers to a 43-18-4 margin. The win marked the end of Clemson’s 10-game win streak against SEC opponents in the regular season dating back to 2014.
“These kids man… You have to understand, they go for so long. 20-30 hours a week grinding for this 15 minutes of joy,” said Smart. “That joy in the locker room right now is so pure. They love it and they love each other. This is a special team, and they fought their tail off.”
Redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Daniels began his second season under center for the Bulldogs (1-0) with a 22-of-30 passing performance for 135 yards. As a team, the Bulldogs ran for 121 yards on 31 attempts. Junior tailback Zamir White led the Bulldogs with 74 yards rushing. True freshman tight end Brock Bowers led the team in receiving yards with six catches for 43 yards.
The Georgia defense proved their worth, allowing 180 total yards of Clemson offense and only four plays of over 10 yards. The Bulldogs were especially impressive on third down, with the Tigers (0-1) only converting on 5-of-16 opportunities.
Junior defensive back Lewis Cine led the team with nine tackles and two pass breakups, while senior outside linebacker Adam Anderson and junior inside linebacker Nakobe Dean each tallied five tackles. Dean led the team with two sacks and two tackles for loss. Anderson, senior defensive lineman Jordan Davis, and juniors Travon Walker and Nolan Smith each had one sack. The seven sack performance by the Bulldogs defense marked one shy of the school record for sacks in a game.
“I can’t say enough about coach (Dan) Lanning and his staff,” said Smart. “I have so much confidence in them. You know in the past I’ve always been so involved, jumping on the defense and he just does it right. The kids play so hard for him and they played so hard tonight. They played with energy and enthusiasm. The defense was phenomenal.”
The Bulldogs opened the contest with excellent special teams play as senior punter Jake Camarda pinned the Tigers deep in their own territory twice. The Georgia defense forced Clemson to back-to-back three-and-outs to open the game in partial to sacks by Dean and Smith. The ensuing Georgia drive led to a 35-yard field goal attempt by junior placekicker Jack Podlesny. The kick missed wide left.
After holding the Tigers to another three-and-out, Will Spiers’s punt deflected off of sophomore running back Kendall Milton. The Tigers recovered the ball at midfield, giving them the first turnover of the game. Five plays later Bulldogs defensive back Christopher Smith broke on a slant route and took the interception 74-yards to the house, marking the game’s only touchdown. It was the first pick-six by a Bulldog since Eric Stokes versus Florida last season.
Georgia held Clemson to 90 yards (1 rushing yard, 89 passing) in the first half. The shutout marked the first time in 143 games that the Tigers failed to score in the opening half.
In the Bulldogs opening drive of the third quarter, Daniels was picked off by Braylon Spector at the UGA 33-yard line. This marked Clemson’s best starting field position of the game, however, back-to-back sacks on second and third down forced the Tigers out of field goal range.
The next Georgia drive was sparked by an explosive 22-yard run by White. 10-plays and 59-yards later a 22-yard chip-shot by Podlesny, gave UGA a 10-0 lead. The Tigers answered with their own 10-play 82-yard drive to get on the scoreboard, thanks to a 22-yard field goal by B.T. Potter.
After going three-and-out, Georgia’s defense stepped up to the plate and held Clemson to fourth down and five on the UGA 45 yard line. The Bulldogs sent the house and forced Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei to throw under distress. After a turnover on downs, the Georgia Offensive found its legs and ran out the last 4:49 tics on the clock behind the stable of running backs.